FDA-led study highlights trade-offs in promoting drugs on social media

Regulatory news

| August 11, 2022 | By Mary Ellen Schneider

According to a series of experimental studies, providing both benefit and risk information in limited character space (CSL) drug promotions on social media platforms such as Twitter improved risk recognition , but reduced the likelihood of consumers clicking on links for additional drug information. studies conducted by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“While it can be difficult to add risk information to CSL communications, this research supports FDA guidance on this topic and suggests that industry may want to continue to innovate to find ways to include risk information in CSL communications,” said FDA’s Helen Sullivan. and his colleagues wrote in the newspaper Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy.

Promotion of CSL drugs

Under current rules for promoting prescription drugs, drugmakers must present a fair balance of risk and benefit information when promoting products, but the agency has struggled with how to apply this standard to social media and Internet platforms that limit the number of characters in a communication.

In 2014, the FDA released draft guidance that advises drugmakers to include risk information in the body of the CSL communication, rather than just providing a link to the risk information. In addition, the draft guidelines recommended that communications from CSL include a link to a landing page containing only risk information (RELATED: FDA Guidelines: How Can Pharmaceutical and Device Companies Use Twitter? Not easily. Regulatory guidance June 17, 2014). However, the agency has yet to finalize the guidelines, and in 2016 announced plans to investigate the issue in four experimental studies simulating Twitter posts and Google-sponsored links. (RELATED: Marketing drugs on Twitter: the FDA will study space-restricted communicationsRegulatory guidance November 7, 2016)

Four experimental studies

The research, published online in August, includes the results of four experimental studies examining the impact of including substantial risk information in the CSL compared to simply providing a link to the risk information. , and the inclusion of both risks and benefits on the linked landing page versus simply providing risk information on the landing page.

The research was divided into four experimental studies that included either participants who reported severe headaches/migraines and were exposed to a fake drug search page on Google or Twitter, or participants who reported trying to lose weight in the past year and have also been exposed to fictitious drug information on a fake Google or Twitter search page. Each of the four studies included 469 participants.


Overall, the inclusion of substantial risk information in CSL communication significantly increased the odds that participants would recognize the risks after the first viewing (shown in three studies) and after the second viewing (shown in all four studies). ).

At the same time, after a second viewing of the CSL communication that included substantial risk information, participants were significantly less likely to click on the link to the homepage. In three studies, having substantial risk information in CSL communication also significantly reduced the number of landing page-only risks that were recognized. “The inclusion of certain risk information in CSL communication may lead individuals to assume that they do not need to pay attention to the link,” the researchers wrote.

Adding drug benefit information to the landing page significantly increased the likelihood that participants would recognize the drug benefit after a second viewing (shown in all four studies). However, one study found that including benefits on landing significantly reduced perceived risk, as well as the number of landing page-only risks that were recognized by participants after the second view.

“In three of the four studies, the inclusion of benefit information on the landing page did not negatively impact participants’ recognition or perception of risk. This suggests that the landing page may not need to focus exclusively on risk,” the researchers wrote. “However, it should be noted that the risk information on the home page of this study was presented with equal prominence to the benefit information; landing pages that emphasize benefits rather than on the risks can lead to different results.

One limitation of the study, the researchers noted, was that they used sham drugs for the studies, which meant they could create risk information that could be summarized in a CSL communication, unlike to many real-world drugs.

The research was funded by the FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion.

Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy study

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